Week 9 – John 11:1-44
The Gospel of John documents seven signs, or miracles, that Jesus did during his ministry that were meant to help people see that he was the Messiah (John also mentions that Jesus did a number of other signs he didn’t document; 20:31). We’ve looked at three of them thus far: the healing of the official’s son, the healing at the pool of Siloam, and the healing of the man born blind. This week we’ll look at the last of these seven signs: the raising of Lazarus.
Following the healing of the man born blind in 9:1-41, Jesus almost got stoned (twice) before leaving Jerusalem and traveling east to the region of Perea, on the other side of the Jordan River, to do ministry for a while. The story of Lazarus’ resurrection starts with Jesus in Perea, hearing that Lazarus was sick. Think back to the healing of the official’s son; Jesus could certainly have healed him at a distance. But John purposefully documents Jesus waiting a few days to leave, intentionally allowing Lazarus to die from his illness. Jesus explains that this is in order for the disciples to believe (11:15) and for those witnessing to know that Jesus was sent by God (11:42). Even more than that, Jesus is communicating his power over death and the grave, a power that will be fully attested to when he walks out of his own tomb.
One aspect of the text that we do need to grapple with is this: was Jesus cruel to let Lazarus die? Interestingly, the passage hinges on a “so” in verse 6. 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.” Jesus loved Lazarus, so he waited and let him die. How can this be love? Jesus himself gives us part of the answer in v.4: “This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” Jesus is saying that Lazarus’ illness, death, and resurrection will ultimately lead to God’s glory. Jesus tells Martha, “Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God?” Through allowing Lazarus’ suffering and Mary and Martha’s grief, Jesus works a miracle to proclaim the glory of God on earth. The supreme work of God’s love for us is to make us God-centered, to wrest our attention off things that lead to death and fix our attention on Life itself. Such a work requires pain and suffering; it required Jesus on the cross, and it requires us picking up our own. (Matt. 16:24) As heartwrenchingly difficult as it is, if we can’t accept that having Jesus on the other side of suffering is worth the suffering, then we can’t accept Jesus. Note that Jesus by no means discounts this suffering; he wept with Mary over her dead brother, and ultimately “he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isa.53:4)
For more on God’s love displayed through Lazarus, check out John Piper’s walk through of this passage.
Questions for Discussion
• Could someone read John 11:1-44 for us?
• What stood out to you from this passage?
• What does the text say about why Jesus waited two more days?
• What can we learn from Martha and Mary’s responses to Jesus?
• What does Jesus say and reveal about himself in this passage?
• If Jesus knew he was going to raise Lazarus, why do you think he wept?
• What does Jesus raising a dead man to life mean for us today?